Analysis In The News

The State of the African Union as Dlamini-Zuma exits

The State of the African Union as Dlamini-Zuma exits
  • PublishedJuly 17, 2016

Who Will be the next AU Chairperson from the above?

On 18 July the African Union at its 27th Summit in Kigali, will be choosing the next Chairperson of the Commission, to succeed Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is stepping down after one term in office. Amid heightening speculation that the election of the next chair would be postponed until January, the legal Counsel and Director of Legal Affairs at the AU – Vincent Nmehielle categorically told a press conference that the vote will go ahead as planned. Our Editor Parselelo Kantai looks at the State of the African Union as Dlamini-Zuma exits.

The question of the departing AU chairperson’s successor has been complicated by an unusual barrier: the candidates themselves. None of the 3 candidates: Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Affairs Minister – Agapito Mba Mokuy; Uganda’s former Vice President –   Speciosa Kazibwe Wandira, and Botswana’s Foreign affairs Minister Dr Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi; has inspired enthusiasm – neither from the continent’s political leaders, nor among Africans at large. And the question of the leadership may distract attention from what the next chairperson needs to do once in office.

The new chairperson will face some immediate and daunting challenges. The founding principles of the African Union, adopted in 2002, set high aspirations, but its capacities don’t match. The organisation was at its strongest in its early phase, when a small group of influential leaders invested strongly in the AU project, and led politically from the front. Today it is in danger of becoming a forum for presidents to pursue narrow interests, combined with an infrastructure for peace enforcement operations. Key to rejuvenating the AU are prioritising the politics of peace, generating new popular legitimacy, and sorting out the finance.

The 10 years following the foundation of the AU saw a decline in wars, a decline in coups, and an increase in democracy across Africa. This was a period of normal development: a host of impressive principles were adopted, some of them enshrined in the AU’s Constitutive Act and others in a raft of protocols, declarations and memoranda of understanding adopted in the following years.

The AU is committed to ‘non-indifference’ – intervening in the internal affairs of member states to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

It rejects unconstitutional changes in government, and supports democratic principles. The procedures for the Peace and Security Council are elaborate and progressive. The mechanisms for conflict prevention and resolution are impressive. Almost every potential element of armed conflict or political crisis is addressed in this compendium of agreements: the challenge is implementing them.

The next AU chairperson will need to rebalance the AU’s policies for peace support operations and political preventative activities. In recent years, the AU has focused its peace and security efforts overwhelmingly on heavily militarised peace support operations, such as in Somalia and (until they were ‘re-hatted’ as UN peacekeeping operations) in CAR and Mali.

These operations are hugely expensive, and consume a vast amount of administrative time and political energy. And they impose on the AU the iron law of military interventions, which is that once troops have been deployed, politicians find themselves working to support their generals, rather than ensuring that the military operations are conducted with political goals in sight.

The AU has a commendable record of conflict prevention and mediation, including using High-Level Panels of serving and former heads of state and government, but these garner far less media attention and political interest than military peace operations.

Another challenge is the relationship between the AU and Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs), which commonly take the lead in responding to conflicts and crises. The RECs have the virtue of proximity and neighbouring countries have the necessary political stakes to risk their troops on dangerous missions. But they are often politically partisan—as we saw in Burundi, when Uganda was ready to disregard legal advice that President Nkrunziza’s bid for a third term was unconstitutional.

If the AU’s foundational principles are to be meaningful, the new AU Chairperson must be ready to be proactive in determining the right mix of AU and REC engagement in such crises.

The AU’s own participatory and consultative institutions, such as the Pan African Parliament and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), need reinvigorating. These reflect the African continental organisation’s historic origins in the Pan-African Movement, which was a people’s movement for African liberation long before it became an inter-governmental club.

If the AU’s foundational principles are to be meaningful, the new AU Chairperson must be ready to be proactive in determining the right mix of AU and REC engagement in such crises.

Popular consultation would help redress the democratic deficit that erupted in 2011 over Libya. The AU correctly identified the crisis as a combination of a popular uprising and a civil war, and recognised that a negotiated settlement would be needed. It was overruled and humiliated, not least among the African people. The AU was weak vis-à-vis the other key actors in Libya, and failed to utilize its strongest card, which was public diplomacy.

The third big challenge facing the AU is funding. The AU is struggling to pay its bills. It is heavily reliant on contributions from North African members and oil-producing countries such as Nigeria and Angola. The chaos in Libya plus ill-feeling between Egypt and the AU following the AU suspension of Egypt following the 2013 military takeover, and the falling price of oil, have led to a sharp drop in funds coming in. A number of proposals for new funding mechanisms have been discussed, but none have been adopted, because each – such as a variant of the airline tax – runs against the vested interests of a few member states.

This year, the High Representative for the Peace Fund, Donald Kaberuka, will present proposals for how to fund the AU’s peace missions. The AU is, overall, remarkably good value for money: but its member states are still reluctant to pay. Unless this changes, the AU will remain far weaker than its potential.



Written By
Parselelo Kantai

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